Cramps–A Sneak Peek (A Hank Walker Story)

If you follow my work, you know who Hank Walker is. You’ve probably read Dredging Up Memories and possibly Interrogations. He’s a southern man trying to survive in the world of the dead, a world where most people he has come across have lost their minds. You also know there is a third book in the works, Eradication. 

Recently, I realized that over half of the third book in the Hank Walker saga needed to be scrapped. It was a deflating moment for me. However, I’ve been able to save quite a bit of words, including the ones below. This is, potentially, chapter 10 of Eradication. Do I think it will change between now and when the book is completed and when it actually goes to publication? Absolutely. Having said that, I think it gives a hint at a crucial element of Eradication and the arc of Hank Walker’s storyline. Can you figure out what that is?

If you are reading this on the day that I posted it, you may be wondering, why two posts in one day? Well, this is as much for me as it is for you. This is my kick in the behind to get this story finished so you, the readers, can see where Hank Walker is going.

I hope you enjoy this sneak peek into Eradication. 

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DUM NEW COVERHis stomach grumbled. Hank thought little of it. The feeling had come and gone plenty of times in the year since the world fell to the dead. When it came again, a gnawing pain came with it. Hank grimaced. Instinctively he hunched over. His face near the steering wheel, his eyes barely on the road, the truck swerved from one lane to the other. 

When the pain subsided, Hank eased back into the right lane. He didn’t think it mattered which side of the road he drove on. There weren’t many people left and the dead wouldn’t be driving. An absurd image popped in his head. It was of the seven biters walking along the highway a few days before. They were all piled in a dusty blue station wagon from the eighties. One of the four men was driving, while one of the women was in the front seat. Between them was the lone child—possibly a teenager. In the backseat, the other four adults scrunched together, with the lone woman almost sitting on the lap of one of the men. In the image he could see a hand between the knees of Lap Lady. It wasn’t sexual in nature, just dangling there, a place to be with no intent at all. 

The Dead Seven sang Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall, all of them off key. The girl laughed as young people would. The car swerved from side to side and the image changed. Instead of the Dead Seven riding along, merrily going about their business, Hank had the rifle trained on the driver’s head. He squeezed the trigger. Less than a second later, the bullet shattered the windshield and struck the driver in his left eye. The bullet exited his skull and struck the hand between the woman’s legs in the backseat.

“You got you a two-fer, Hank.”

Hank froze. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t look to his right where the voice came from. He knew the voice and the tone. He knew the excitement in it. He knew it didn’t sound quite right. 

The car swerved and the Dead Seven, now the Dead Six, screamed. The driver had tipped to the side, his head on the young girl’s shoulder. Her empty white eyes bulged and her mouth was open as wide as it could possibly go. The groan coming from it was loud and scared.

The car sped along the grass, the tires bumpety bumping along. Then the car hit a dip. The front end dug into the ground as the back end tipped up, then fell back down on its top. The windows exploded and the car flipped again, this time sideways. The woman in the backseat appeared in one of the side windows, her body halfway out of the car. She disappeared beneath the vehicle when it flipped again. The next time Hank saw her, she lay on the ground, nothing more than a squashed bug on concrete.

The girl in the front was no longer in her seat, but her head was plastered against the windshield. The three men in the backseat flopped around as the car flipped, end over end, several more times before it came to a stop on its wheels almost a hundred feet from the road. 

The Dead Seven were permanently dead, no longer roaming the world in search of fresh meals. 

“Hmm … looks like you got yourself a seven-fer, Hank,” the voice to his right said again. 

He didn’t want to look, but was helpless to stop himself. The scenery slowly changed from the smoking station wagon, to the interstate (where skid marks stretched thirty or so feet along the road just before the car hit grass), to the trees lining the other side of the interstate, to the edge of the overpass he stood on to the dead and sunken in features of his oldest brother, Lee. He smiled and a centipede crawled from between his rotting lips. 

Hank screamed and woke up. His knee struck the steering wheel of the truck. The horn gave a little beep when his hand hit it. He looked to his right, still believing Lee would be there, staring at him, a centipede crawling down his chin. But Lee wasn’t there. Only the dark of night surrounded him. He had pulled off the road and down a dirt path. Though he didn’t believe anyone else would be traveling that way, he didn’t want to take a chance of being discovered in the middle of the night. Not with all the crazies he ran into. And not while he slept.

A few drops of rain pattered the windshield. When was the last time it had rained? Hank couldn’t recall. The last time there was any precipitation of any kind was when it snowed and that was long in the past, faded like most memories. Yet, here he sat, watching as rain struck the windshield and listening as it pelted the truck’s top and hood and the bed.

Interrogations New Front Cover“Everything in the bed is going to be soaked,” he said and thought about getting out and trying to put as much in the cab as he could. Instead, he sat, watching as the rain came down harder.

His stomach grumbled. Hank turned the overhead light on and searched the cab for food. He found several bags of chips, a can of chili with a pop top and half a dozen bottles of water. He popped the top on the chili. The heavy aroma coming from it churned his stomach. In the past, he wouldn’t have thought about eating anything that made him almost gag just from the smell of it. But times were lean and food was at a premium. 

“Just a few bites,” he said and stuck his fingers into the cold chili. He barely had it to his mouth when his stomach cramped. He forgot about the food and pitched forward, his shoulder striking the steering wheel. The pain reminded him of his dream, of how sharp the pain had been in it and how quickly it shifted to the Dead Seven. The pain grew worse, cramping and pinching at his insides. He let out a moan as he clutched his stomach with both hands, the chili having fallen into his lap, the can having fell between his legs and rolled onto the floorboard. 

Hank got the door open, fell to the wet ground and vomited. The rain beat down on him, cooling his suddenly hot body. Spots filled his vision and he threw up a second time. When he was sure he wouldn’t throw up again, he dropped onto his side, his legs pulled up to his chest, not caring about the muddy ground he lay on, only relishing the icy cold rain. He closed his eyes and waited for the cramps to subside enough for him to stand. One hand went over his face. He felt weak and fear pushed into his mind. 

You need to get up, Hank, it whispered. You need to get up and get back in the truck.

“I can’t,” he said. Several rain drops landed in his mouth. It was like honey off the comb, sweet to the taste.

He lay there a while longer, his hand to his face, his body weak, stomach cramping. Before he realized it, Hank faded off to sleep. 

A.J.

 

An Excerpt From Susie Bantum’s Death

Good afternoon Faithful Readers,

Today I want to give you a taste of my newest story. This is the beginning of Susie Bantum’s Death.

I hope you enjoy.

***

She smoked the cigarette like it was the last thing she would ever do. Within three minutes of lighting it and a dozen or so steady puffs, she had dwindled it down to the filter. She flipped the butt away. It landed just by the shoreline of the flowing river. What remained of the red cherry was nothing more than a smoldering black pit with gray smoke pluming up from it.

It wasn’t the last thing she did. No, that thing was the run and jump into the raging river head first. That was odd for a couple of reasons. One, the river had swollen and had risen up the banks over the last three days, thanks to the week of rain the state had received. It was just a reprieve, a lull in the constant downpour that allowed her to take the walk to the river from her little home just up the hill from it in the village. Two, she was fully clothed and what most people would call sound of mind. The papers would say that was not a sound of mind thing to do, jumping in the water, fully clothed during what would be a flood just the next day.

They would be right. It was not what sound of mind folks did. But then again, Susie Bantum was a nobody and nobodies don’t matter to the somebodies of the world.

There were two witnesses who saw Susie take the leap to her death. The first of these was an old man, Marcel Declerque. He had been walking his dog when Susie went by him, her head up, eyes focused forward.

“She looked intense,” he would tell the police, but that wasn’t quite true. Sure, she was focused, but what was taken as intense was nothing more than Susie’s determination to get to the river, to … end it all.

“I only noticed her because Jerry barked at her,” Declerque told the police. Jerry was his fourteen year old German Schnauzer with bad hearing and bad eyesight. For Jerry to even notice her told his owner the woman was ‘just bad news.’

“She kept talking to herself, as if there was someone with her, but there wasn’t. I thought she was a couple laughs away from the funny farm until she jumped into the water.”

The other witness was a kid, aged ten, who had gone down to the river to skip rocks, but he couldn’t find any stones because the water had risen so high.

“I’ve been stuck inside for six days,” Bartholomew Winslow said. “You can’t watch but so many episodes of Spongebob before you get bored. It’s the same thing over and over. Spongebob is annoying, Patrick is dumb, Squidward is, well, he’s Squidward. It gets annoying after a while, you know? And that woman made them all look sane. She walked by me, carrying on a conversation as if she were with someone.”

The police weren’t interested in Winslow’s cartoon stories or Declerque’s dog tales. They only wanted facts and those were Susie smoked a cigarette and then jumped into the river, “where she was swept away like a trailer home during a tornado,” as Declerque put it.  And if it was true that Susie was talking to herself, having a conversation, as the kid put it, then maybe she really had been a few laughs away from the funny farm.

It was Henry Killmander who investigated the case. Not that he was a cop or a detective, or really anyone other than someone who had read about the case in the paper and seen the reports on the nightly news. Henry Killmander lived three houses down from Susie Bantum, and “she wouldn’t just up and kill herself like that,” he told the police. As with events of this nature, “it’s an open and shut case,” the detective said to Killmander before he folded his little black notebook up and tucked it in his pocket. He left with a wave and a “good day, Mr. Killmander.”

And that was that. Case closed. End of story. Move along little doggie, nothing to see here. But that was not good enough for Henry. No, Henry knew Susie and he knew she wouldn’t have just jumped into the river and taken her own life.

***

If you enjoyed the first two pages of Susie Bantum’s Death, please let me know in the comments section below.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.